Arafat ready to accept offer for peace talks

JERUSALEM – Following an Israeli offer, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said yesterday he is ready for peace talks, while about 6,000 Palestinians returned to jobs in Israel for the first time in a month.

In an abrupt turnaround last week, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said contacts were already underway with Palestinian officials, adding, “We are ready to enter negotiations at any time.” Sharon had previously conditioned talks on a crackdown on violent Palestinian groups responsible for attacks on Israelis.

Asked about Sharon’s remarks, Arafat told reporters he would accept an offer for talks. “There is no official communication, but we are ready,” he said after meeting a delegation of Greek lawmakers at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Talks on the U.S.-backed “road map” peace plan have been stalled for weeks because of Palestinian bombing attacks and Israeli military operations, along with the Palestinians’ inability to form a stable government.

Arafat has often said he is ready to talk peace, but Israel and the United States are boycotting him, charging that he is tainted by terrorism. They insist on dealing with an empowered prime minister.

Sniper trial illustrates missed opportunities

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A woman worried that she could be the next victim in the Washington-area sniper shootings saw a suspicious blue car but didn’t tell police “because they were looking for a white van.”

A police officer spoke to John Allen Muhammad, who was driving a blue car near one of the shootings, but let him go.

A dispatcher got a call from someone claiming responsibility for the attacks, but tried to refer him to another agency. The caller hung up. Testimony in Muhammad’s capital murder trial has been replete with such reminders of missed opportunities to end the three-week series of attacks in which 10 people were killed.

“These are heartbreaking things,” said former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt. “These are things that police officers and FBI agents are beating themselves in the head with and saying: ‘My God, if only we would have, should have, could have. We might have gotten them sooner, if only.'”

The trial enters its third week of testimony today as Muhammad faces charges in one of the killings, that of Dean Harold Meyers, who was shot at a Manassas-area gas station on Oct. 9, 2002.

Mutual fund scandal leads to investigation

WASHINGTON – Federal regulators and New York’s top law enforcer, pressing investigations of a mutual fund scandal, also are drawing up an overhaul of the $7 trillion industry that traditionally has enjoyed a pristine image.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is lashing out at the Securities and Exchange Commission for what he calls its failure to detect abuses and act quickly. “Heads should roll” at the agency, he says. Companies must be forced to pay back to investors the hefty fees received for managing mutual funds during the time they allowed fund trading abuses to occur, Spitzer said yesterday.

“If they’re expecting to get settlements (with regulators) they’re going to have to give much more back than just their losses. They’re going to be paying stiff fines and giving back their management fees.

First openly gay bishop consecrated

DURHAM, N.H. – The Episcopal Church became the first major Christian denomination to make an openly gay man a bishop, consecrating V. Gene Robinson yesterday as bishop of New Hampshire. The act almost certainly means disgruntled conservatives will break from the church.

Robinson, 56, became a bishop when the 55 other bishops attending his consecration surrounded him for the laying on of hands. The historic moment came more than an hour into the ceremony and after two Episcopal clerics took advantage of the traditional opportunity to object.

Leaders of the global Anglican Communion have said his consecration puts their worldwide association in jeopardy.

U.S. criticized for oil company share freeze

MOSCOW – Russia’s foreign minister criticized the United States yesterday for expressing concern about actions against the oil giant Yukos, but President Vladimir Putin’s new chief of staff said he doubted the wisdom of freezing a large chunk of the company’s shares.

Last week, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Bush administration regarded the arrest and jailing of Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and the freezing of 44 percent of the company’s shares, as raising “serious questions about the rule of law in Russia.”

“The United States is trying to place the actions of the judicial organs of Russia in doubt,” said Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

– Compiled from Daily wire reports.



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